Sunday, December 26, 2010

Outsider People of the Year 2010

Here's a good finish to the year.  I got mentioned in Outsider magazine's People of the Year list for 2010. Thanks Outsider..

Outsider people of the year – 2010
Words: Ross McDonagh
Every year we hear amazing stories about extraordinary exploits on the Irish adventure and outdoor scene. Some of them are tales that hit the mainstream or even international headlines while others are low-key affairs that receive little fanfare other than a few claps on the back down the local or from people’s families.
Likewise some are impressive because the feat of the protagonist is so far beyond our ability or reality. And others are stirring because they demonstrate such depth of human spirit. Either way, we’ve gathered a selection that most awed and inspired us.
Might we add that this is by no means an exhaustive list. Some people had their moment of glory just as we were going to print (surfers of Prowlers, you know who you are.) And no doubt we are unintentionally leaving people out that deserve a mention.
We’ve also noticed that there is a serious lack of women on this list. We know you’re out there doing amazing things, so please get in touch so we can learn more about your stories too.
Sean McGowan
On 4 May this year Sean McGowan became the first Irish person to row solo and unsupported across any ocean, covering the 5,000km Atlantic east to west in 118 days. In what has been widely recognised as the worst weather to hit any ocean row, Sean was up against it from the start.
On only his third day at sea his first storm arrived, and on the fifth day he was taken out of his tiny boat by a huge rogue wave, breaking oars and damaging his boat in the process. “I was scared, I knew that I was lucky to be alive but I was just thinking about was how to fix my boat and keep going.”
His luck didn’t change and in an epic struggle compounded by frequent water and food shortages he finally made land. “I could only think one hour ahead, if I thought anymore than that I would probably have given up.” He suffered from scurvy, strapped his hands to the oars to keep rowing, damaged tendons and his weight went from 84kg to 59kg after spending the last 38 days eating raw fish.
“Rowing isn’t a sport where you get recognition so to get nominated for this list, it’s humbling and means a lot. The best award for me is from like-minded people, people who go about their sports with little or no recognition but do it for the joy of the sport. When they recognise you then you know it’s sincere and it makes the award special.”
Fergal Smith
Anyone who knows anything about surfing knows you need more than a couple of lessons before you can take part in the Air Tahiti Nui Von Zipper trials. A third round finish for Fergal Smith against the world’s greatest confirms he is among them
“Well first I have to say that I am really shocked to be on such a list. When I started out surfing it was such a small pastime in this country I never would have imagined I would be included in anything like this, especially with most people telling me I should get a real job when I started out.
“I just know I’m infinitely grateful looking back over the path surfing has taken me since leaving school. I always knew surfing was going to be my life but didn’t have any idea where it was going to lead me.
“I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world surfing challenging waves, and this year I even managed to gain a scarce spot in the Air Tahiti/Von Zipper trials event at Teahupoo. It was great to be competing against the world’s best surfers in heavy waves, but to be honest my real passion lies at home on the westerly shores of Ireland.
“Our country has some incredible waves if you are willing to put in the time and energy into weathering the elements and seeking them out. The future is very exciting and I am looking to continue pushing Irish surfing as far as I can.”
Mark Pollock
Born an adventurer but blind from his early 20s, Mark has always endured the bittersweet prospect of reaching some of the world’s most awe-inspiring locations but never seeing them. It would be an achievement in itself just listing all Mark has already accomplished, which includes winning rowing medals at the Commonwealth Games, becoming the first blind person to reach the South Pole, and most recently sailing around Ireland. Now Mark may face his biggest challenge yet: regaining the ability to walk. A freak accident saw him sleepwalk out of a first floor window and fall 25 feet onto concrete; but it would take a fall ten times that height to even dent Mark’s spirit, will and optimism.
Simon Evans & Fearghal O’Nuallain
“The re-integration process is almost complete, after six months in one place I don’t have to resist the urge to pack up my bed every morning and having a fridge is no longer a novelty!”
Simon and Fearghal just cycled around the world, that’s all.
“Cycling 31,000km around the world means 18 months of sleeping rough, having a chiselled calves and calloused arse, taking eight hours of exercise a day, wearing the same clothes for two weeks straight, having the shits for a month straight, worrying about incline, gradient and road surfaces, eating like a horse, being able to eat a horse, not knowing the name of the town you’re in, forgetting the name of the person you’re spending the night with, cycling another 20km till lunch to save 50 cent, living out of a waterproof bag in a steel trailer, getting burnt in the Taklamkan desert, an ice beard in subzero central Asia, wheezing at 4,500m in the Andes, getting hit by a car in Uzbekistan, and knifed in Iran.”
And if you don’t believe that, check out the boys’ superb blog and photos on
Mickey Smith
Mickey Smith has not only bodyboarded and surfed Ireland’s and the world’s best waves, he has the stunning photography to prove it. This year he made a short film called //Darkside of the Lens// in Co Clare, which went on to win Best Film at both the New York Surf Film Festival and the Canadian Surf Film festival. He dedicated the film to his sister Cherry who died this summer.
“It feels really strange being shortlisted for something like this as I don’t feel I deserve it at all. I’m just really lucky to be able to live and have lived the life I do. There’s no guarantees with it being able to continue; so it feels like every day out in the waves is a blessing for me and I want to do right by that and give it my all.
“This year has been really, really up and down. It’s pretty much been psychotic. Some massive highs, such as some of the most intense and rewarding winters in the Atlantic Ocean of our lives, and also the heaviest low I’ve ever had to deal with, losing my younger sister Cherry this summer.”
“My plan in the near future is to push my photography as far as I can go in the ocean, write music, keep making films that come from the heart, and to continue to do my sister’s memory proud.”
Cathal O’Brien
Breaking records is one thing, but setting them can only be done once. Cathal, along with Roger Harty, Paul Murphy, Derry Doyle and Paul Gosney, decided to become the first ever people to swim across the lakes of Killarney: a 13.2km stretch across open water. After a year of preparation, Cathal’s first task on the day – being the only swimmer of the group forgoing a wetsuit – was to acclimatise to the cold waters of the Upper Lake.
“Passage through the Long Range to the Muckross Lake meant negotiating areas of weeds and silt. Entry to the Muckross Lake was under the Old Weir Bridge with jagged rocks and shallow rapids.
“I swam past the observers at Dinis cottage, through warmer waters to Bricin Bridge and on to the largest of the three lakes. Lough Leane – the lake of learning – so called for the monastery on Innisfallen Island – is a daunting swim.” And when the wind started to pick up speed, it appropriately became a ‘learning experience’.”
The team reached Ross Castle in six hours, becoming the first ever people to do so. Despite his achievement, all Cathal talks about is the stunning scenery and wildlife he saw en route.
“It was an event in which comradeship, natural beauty and athletic achievement combined in an unforgettable life experience.”
Austin Campbell
Since many of us wouldn’t dream of going to the shop without the car, walking across an entire continent is tough to fathom – but that’s what Austin Campbell did last year. “I walked 4,500km from my home in Co Meath to Istanbul, Turkey, in aid of the Peter McVerry Trust, a charity which looks after Dublin’s homeless population.
“Walking to Istanbul was one big high. The feeling of being so small in such a big world, of being lost but not worried in a foreign place gave great peace. The feeling of having no mobile phone and no obligations was beautiful. Every day I had the acute high of being completely alive, and this was interspersed with meetings with many interesting strangers.
“I did what I set out to do so it feels good in terms of having ticked that box. But there is much more depth to walking than that. In particular there are the emotional ties you make with the people and places you come into contact with. It’s these memories and friendships which are the real achievement.”
John O’Regan
Just about everyone knows the story of how the marathon got its name when the Greek soldier Pheidippides ran 26 and a bit miles from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens to give the heads up. Not everyone knows that a few minutes earlier he had run 140 miles to Sparta to round up the troops. And while just about everyone has run a marathon, not everyone has ran a Spartathalon (246km).
For John O’Regan, it was just another week on the calendar. “Along with another Irish runner, we were the first Irish finishers since 1998 in a race that consistently has a dropout rate of 70 per cent.”
And this is just one of John’s achievements in recent times. Over the past few years he has run an ultra marathon or marathon on each of the seven continents and the North Pole, including most northern (North Pole), most southern (Antarctica), highest (Everest) and lowest (Dead Sea) races in the world.
Earlier this year he ran on the Irish team in the 24-hr World & European Championships covering a distance of 205km and in November he competed in Gibraltar on the Irish Team in the 100km World & European Championships and finished in 8 hours and 28 minutes.
72nd place. “I’m very happy with it as it was only five weeks after the 246km Spartathlon,” he stated.
Alan Collins
Imagine cycling the length of Ireland from Malin Head to Mizen Head. Now imagine you had no handlebars to keep your balance, no saddle to sit on, your wheels were shrunk to a fraction of their normal size and instead of pedalling, you had to scoot the whole way there. It’s called skateboarding.
“The morning I started the skate was probably one of the wettest days on record and with 860km ahead of me I was definitely feeling a little apprehensive. The whole skate took 11 days averaging approx 80km a day. Everything about it was surreal: the natural beauty of the route I took, the kindness of the people along the way, the constant change in weather from thunderstorms and wind to rain and sun, the dodgy slippery down hills, the endless flat and bumpy roads and of course the long up hills…
“Physically it was certainly a challenge but one I had prepared for it by skating into work (30km return) throughout the previous six months and finding any bit of water (lake, sea, river) I could to relax in after my day’s skate. The weather made it even more demanding than I had planned with wet roads every day making it extremely slippery and making my bearings (in my wheels, not my head) seize up. My right leg and foot (pushing leg) tended to seize up and swell towards the end of the day’s skate and morning times were always a struggle to actually move the body.
“Crossing the finish line at Malin Head felt a little overwhelming having planned for it over the previous year and having my friends, family and charity waiting. Obviously completing the skate was a high but the fact that I raised just under €14,000 for my chosen charity – Muscular Dystrophy Ireland – made it even more worthwhile.”
And as for next year? “I love challenges and tend to try do something every year but next year will be a little different as my wife is pregnant with our first child, probably the biggest challenge yet huh?”
Ricky Adam
You know what the kids on the interweb say: photos or it didn’t happen. If it weren’t for the likes of photographer Ricky Adam, we wouldn’t know – or probably believe – people actually pull off the crazy shit that appears in this magazine.
The Co Down man was one of the 50 finalists out of almost 5,000 photographers who submitted 22,764 images to the Red Bull Illume, the biggest sports and action photography contest in the world.
“Taking pictures is something that I need to do, it’s like breathing. If I stopped breathing I’d be dead, if I stopped taking pictures I’d feel dead inside.
“I have always been passionate about photographing things that I have a burning interest in: punk, BMX, youth culture, social documentary etc. It must come from within, otherwise what’s the point?
“Ultimately I want to motivate and inspire people to go out and do positive stuff like pick up a bike and blast off a jump, lift a drumstick, sing in a band or even pick up a camera.
“Follow your heart and believe in what you do. Let’s keep the energy going. It’s all about what’s happening today, now.”
Nicolas Roche
You may not have heard of this guy, but he did quite well in some bike races this year, and even finished 15th in a big one in France.
“I am of course happy about how things went. I can’t say it’s a surprise as I’ve worked hard to arrive where I am, but it’s fair to say that I am relieved that I was able to compete at this level as it’s where I’ve always wished I could be. I am very satisfied, but only one regret: I did not win. And at the end of the day winning is also very import, and such a great thrill when occurs.
“Next year, I hope I can progress another bit. I have had a good 2010, and will not be challenging to do as well, but I really hope I can fight my place into the top 10 of the Tour de France.
“I am proud to represent Ireland, around the world and throughout my performance, I try to make myself an ambassador of Irish sport, and a representative of Irish wherever I am.
“It is a great honour and recognition to be part of this list.”
Dan Martin
When your little brother is one of Ireland’s best up-and-coming cyclists, your older cousin is currently the country’s most famous one and your uncle is, well, Stephen Roche, it’s difficult to stand out in one of the nation’s highest-achieving sporting families. But difficult is what Dan Martin eats for breakfast.
“2010 was the year that many people say I have stepped up a level. But really it was the final three months of the season where I won four prestigious races that made everybody forget the stuttering beginning to my year!
“The highlight was the overall win at the tour of Poland, becoming not only the first Irish winner of the race in its 67-year history but also the first Irish cyclist to win a pro tour competition. It has also given me confidence to go into races believing I can win, something I hope to carry into next season.
“I finished the season with a win in front of 200,000 fanatical Japanese supporters and now this nomination comes as a total surprise. To hear my name included among the people on this list is an honour. I ride a bike for fun, and I really hope we can inspire kids to get on bikes and enjoy same sensations of freedom I do.”
Martin Codyre
“Quite possibly the toughest thing I’ve ever done may have, to the casual observer, looked like I was just sitting there watching the world go by. We had just completed the first 250m of Witches hill in the Swiss Ironman 70.3 and the gradient was approaching 15 per cent. Paul [Blount]and Brian [Codyre] were really dying, working harder than they ever had: they were in hell because they were towing me, a quadriplegic, up the hill; I was in hell because I couldn’t physically help, because I can’t help.
“Although I couldn’t physically get myself around the Ironman course it would not have happened without my belief that we could do it and my trust in my friends.
“Completing the Ironman, to me, represents a line in the sand, a milestone, a testament to what is possible with teamwork and belief. I’m still working on what’s next. I want others with major challenges in their lives to look at what we’ve done and think about how they can participate in events like this or others to look at how they can help people to overcome those challenges.
“Things are only considered impossible till someone’s done it once. I hope that we’ve encouraged people to look towards the next seemingly impossible challenge. A cure for paralysis was once considered impossible, it’s now considered inevitable and I am excited to continue to work towards making this a reality within my lifetime.”
David O’Caoimh
Forget the medal he won at the Europe and Africa wakeboarding championships – the biggest achievement in David O’Caoimh’s career? Making this list, apparently.
“Wakeboarding is a minority sport but now to know that there are people out there who respect the sport to such a level is fantastic, not just for me but also for the sport’s future. Words can’t express how good this makes me feel.
“The European Championships were unreal. They were held in Sweden and everyone was really friendly and so excited to be involved in such a big event. We were out there for a week trying to get as much practice as possible before the three-day Championships began.
“During the event everyone behaved like true sportsmen, helping one another out and wishing each other good luck. Then, as it is a team as well as an individual event, all the teams came down to the side of the lake to cheer on their riders (the Irish were by far the loudest!) which created a really good atmosphere for all the spectators too.
“To win the silver medal was surreal! It is the first time that I have made the podium in any European Championships and I am so delighted.”
Gerard McDonnell
Ger McDonnell holds the sad honour of being the only person on this list who can never add to his list of achievements. That list is long and prestigious – including summitting Everest and becoming the first ever Irish person to summit K2 – but it is for his final noble feat that he will be forever remembered, laying down his life in an attempt to rescue injured climbers he didn’t even know.
The same mountain that attracted Ger took his life, along with the lives of 10 others in K2’s worst-ever mountaineering accident in August 2008.
This year, Ger was posthumously awarded an International Alpine Solidarity Award for his selfless sacrifice. This is how the award awarding committee summed him up: “McDonnell was the finest of mountaineers: he was someone who chose to take his outstanding generosity abroad, someone who took part in many rescue efforts, and someone who was capable of abandoning his own plans, such as conquering the world’s most difficult peaks, to assist climbers in difficulty.”
Ger left an uncrossable crevasse in the face of Irish mountaineering when he left us, and he will be forever sorely missed. RIP.
Steve Redmond & Anne Marie Ward
Steve and Anne Marie completed the same feat this year: swimming across the North Channel from Scotland to Belfast, something only 11 people have now ever done.
Steve became only the second person in history to pull it off on his first try – a monumental achievement. Anne Marie, on the other hand, was on her fourth attempt. She had been frustrated three times before, making you wonder how she wasn’t dragged to the bottom by a will and determination clearly made of solid iron.
“The swim was a very strange day,’ Steve recalls. “Training and waiting for two years, praying for good weather, and then finally getting into the water at 5.50am and realising it all boils down to the next 20 hours – or how ever long it takes.
“It becomes all consuming and all you think about is how it will feel when you eventually touch the other side, how it will smell, taste and look. That is if I do not get injured or the cold or the bloody jellyfish stings don’t lock up my arms. You try to forget about what you cannot control and just try and swim with as little effort as possible and look forward to the next feed. You block everything out and relax and go into your own head and keep telling yourself you can do it, all the time realizing that the legions of woe are never far behind
“You keep thinking you are swimming downhill now. There is an imaginary umbilical between the swimmer and the boat and you realise you cannot stop because they have put so much work into the feed, stroke counting and keeping you going, that it is their swim as much as yours.
“Swimming in the dark brings on new problems. You cannot avoid the jellyfish and the continuous stinging. You have light sticks on so the boat can see the swimmer, but you can’t see the shore, only the occasional light, so it feels that you are not making any progress. So you just keep swimming.
“When you finally hit a bit of seaweed you think you are imagining it and when you find you can actually stand up and touch the land – SHOCK.
“The swim means that I was bloody lucky and that I did enough training (you never think you’ve done enough).
“It was a huge relief to get it done – and I never want to see the North Channel again.
“I only swam, that’s easy. I did the swim in memory of a friend of mine that died from cancer last year. There are people facing this illness every day who are far stronger and braver then I am.
As for Ann Marie Ward, she recalls, “At 8.30am on Wednesday September 1 2010 I touched the rocks at the Gobbins, north of Belfast Lough and began my fourth attempt to swim the notorious North Channel.
“Four weeks previously my joints seized up after swimming through beds of jellyfish for five dark hours. The toxins poisoned my system and, unable to move, I was taken from the water. In 2008 I had swum for 17.5 hours but was beaten by tides and weather off the Scottish coast. In 2009, the weather changed and the swim was abandoned at midnight after only two hours.
“With the mounting hours and still haunted by the memories of previous attempts I was battling with all my might. Midnight came and went and all I had to hold on to was my mantra: ‘The boys will bring me home, the boys will bring me home.’ Repeating this mantra over and over again in my mind to dull out the pain, I was determined now more than ever in my life.
“My crews had worked to the minute detail, knowing when to push me with changing tides and weather. The last few hours were extremely tough but after 18 hours, 59 minutes and 26 seconds I touched Scotland at 3.30am on Thursday September 2.
“Being the first Irish woman and 11th person in history to swim the North Channel is a huge honour but for me after swimming 43.5 hours in the North Channel, over four attempts, it was the sense of winning my personal battle with this confusing channel that surpassed all.
“My fantastic 10-person team worked tirelessly to get me across. Their job is huge, transporting boats, equipment, their safety, my safety, years of planning for this and previous swims. All I had to do was swim.”
Tim Galvin
As greedy as mountaineers come – one just wasn’t enough for Tim Galvin. There had to be four, they had to be the highest in each of Ireland’s provinces…and he wasn’t prepared to waste more than one day doing it.
In September Tim set a new record for the Irish 4 Peaks Challenge, finishing in 18 hours and 30 minutes – and two-thirds of that he spent driving between them.
“We were aware it had been tried a lot of times to break the 24 hours and it hadn’t been done, so that was my goal.
“I trained all year for it; on each mountain in every weather condition,” he said. “And Carrauntoohil is my back garden so I knew my times there well.”
Starting at midnight on Slieve Donard, Tim had a little help from the gods as they kept conditions there – as well as on Wicklow’s Lugnaquilla, Mayo’s Mweelrea and Kerry’s Carrantuohill – perfect
“I did this for Our lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin and raised €50,000 to date. Looking back it was a lot hard training but it paid off. It was great doing it but it’s kids in Crumlin who face the real challenge; they climb mountains everyday.”
Tim is already training for his next challenge: breaking the record set by Robin Bryson in 1999, who ran and biked up and down – and between – every 3,000ft+ mountain in Ireland….in 23 hours and 19 minutes. Watch this space!
Dieter Gogsch
Dieter Gogsch was told he’d never walk again after an accident. This year he completed the swimming section of Killarney Triathlon, handing his crutches to a kayaker.
“The triathlon was a very enjoyable experience. It was something I always longed to do but never got round to doing one. When this opportunity arose with having a triathlon right outside my doorstep and it being the first ever Killarney outdoor triathlon I just couldn’t resist.
“The feeling you get from swimming out in the open lake is just amazing. I only recently took up open water swimming but am definitely hooked on it now. The whole experience of participating in this event was just so memorable and achieving and reaching the end was just fantastic. I was particularly delighted with my time for the swim, especially given that there was a strong enough breeze on the lake.
“I am personally astounded and overwhelmed at even being considered for this, it is a privilege.”

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